“If Elon takes over Twitter, a world of pain awaits him.” writes Yishan Wong, the former CEO of Reddit. “He has no idea.”
Wong suggests a version of Matt Levine’s Elon Markets Hypothesis† According to Wong, “Musk doesn’t understand what’s happened to internet culture since 2004. Or as I call it, just culture.” Wong’s specific example was Bitcoin – Musk’s Public Interest In Cryptocurrency Is Relatively Recent — but it’s also true that at least one hedge fund made a lot of money by noticing that Musk was interested in GameStop and sell immediately†
What’s really funny is that Wong reveals Silicon Valley’s real preference, which is coding fun stuff. (This is a lot like journalism’s real bias, which is to get the news out as soon as possible. This bias often leads to mistakes!) Most programmers and executives at social media companies don’t want to be forced to monitor bad user behavior. But they nevertheless spend a lot of time to avoid all of us creating flame wars that could engulf everything online. This is a lot less fun than making, for example, the Twitter timeline goes sideways†
This guy ran Reddit, so I’m inclined to think he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to user behavior: left to our own devices, we seem to love making battle royales, where one wrong move leads to absolutely bizarre , leads to serious consequences. Thomas Hobbes wasn’t right about how we all behave in real life — humans are very good at working together if our survival depends on it — but he’s right about the internet, which is red with teeth and claws.
Any unmoderated platform will go to hell because it only takes a few bad users to make it miserable for everyone. The gullible users leave because the platform is scary, and then only the gullible users are left. That generally makes it worse.
Wong’s thread, that is worth reading in full, suggests Musk, as usual, is way behind culturally. Gen Xers grew up in a different, softer world. For Musk and many of his Xer brethren, “freedom of speech” is about avoiding banning things that might irritate religious authorities (for example, porn). Wong thought so, too, until he ran Reddit and discovered that the Internet was “the MAIN battleground for our culture wars.”
“This is not the old internet,” Wong writes. “That’s gone. It is pathetic. It’s not because the platforms killed it.” No, it’s because there are a lot more people here now, including the wild internet natives (hello!). If you want to restart the ’90s internet culture battles, go for it. gang, but those battles are obsolete.